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Double Your Speed With Six Sigma

Aug 17, 2007
Most processes today, whether related to manufacturing, ordering, billing or fulfilling an order, possess a structure, which consists of ad-hoc processes that are usually lumped together, according to the need of the moment. Over time, most processes become complex and cumbersome, and slow-downs begin to occur. The result is that a lot of time, effort and money is wasted, with many departments being created to handle the various steps involved in the process.

Experts are employed to handle large workloads with the aim of cost reduction. However, in spite of everyone working at full capacity, sometimes there is no reduction in the workload nor is there any improvement in results. Productivity can remain low with dissatisfaction high.

If you take order processing as an example, a slow-down would seem to indicate that people are not working fast enough, and extra effort is warranted for a reduction in cycle time. In reality, as is usually the case, the increase in speed of working may not come about from everyone working faster; instead it could occur by focusing on the period of inactivity on a customer's order.

Usually, it is true that while people continue to work, the order itself lies idle because of the constraints of the process design. An analysis of a process usually confirms that at multiple points, computerized programs can do the majority of the jobs equally well, or even better, than by the specialized people hired for it. It has been found that modifying the process can dramatically reduce the cycle time by up to seventy to eighty percent, giving manifold increase in speed.

A Typical Example Of Order Processing Using Six Sigma Would Suggest The Following:

1) Make a flow chart of the whole process, and mark all activities using a box diagram to depict each. Mark decisions by using diamond diagrams, and use arrows to connect the boxes and diamonds. The arrows would denote the time lag between each of them.

2) Begin the flow chart from the time of receiving the order, and draw a line from each diamond, box and arrow, to show how much time has elapsed for each part of the process represented by it. On investigation, to determine the actual time for each box, diamond and arrow, you will find that the arrows (idle time) take up most of the cycle time.

3) Take the boxes, diamonds and arrows one by one, and objectively assess if it changes, improves or enhances the order in any way, i.e. if it adds value to it. Idle time, delay, rework etc., would indicate non-value-added parts.

4) Once this identification is done, examine ways to eliminate or lessen the impact of these non-value-added parts, without adversely affecting the process as a whole. You may want to have a look at standardized forms or other documents being used in the process, which could require modification or simplification to reduce information-processing time.

5) Formulate a realistic action plan for transitioning from the old process to the newly designed one. Allow new order handling through the new process while letting the old one dispose off the existing ones.

6) Devise methods to phase out the old process completely over a scheduled period of time.

Implementing Six Sigma methods can lead to dramatic reduction in cycle time, and increased productivity, employee satisfaction and profits.
About the Author
Tony Jacowski is a quality analyst for The MBA Journal. Aveta Solution's Six Sigma Online offers online six sigma training and certification classes for lean six sigma, black belts, green belts, and yellow belts.
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